On Tuesday12th August 2014, Uganda will join the rest of the world to commemorate the International Youth day. This day meant to bring to the attention youth issues, is used to celebrate the potential of youth as partners in development. This year’s celebrations will carry the theme “Youth and Mental Health” under the slogan ‘Mental Health Matters’. The World Health Organization defines mental health as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
The International Youth Day comes at a time when there are numerous media reports of increasing cases of mental illnesses in youth mainly attributed to the growing abuse of drugs. Health reports indicate that close to 20 percent (6.8 million) out of an estimated 34m Ugandans have some degrees of mental illness ranging from anxiety at 20-62%, depression at 12-68% to severe disorders (Mental Health Policy, 2007). Sadly, half of those affected do not seek medical treatment from medical facilities for fear of discrimination and isolation from their communities. Butabika the only National referral hospital for mental cases records at least 28 cases every month, majority being youth (World Health Organization, 2012). The National youth policy also puts the number of youth inmates at 63% with unemployment; poverty and redundancy as the main causes of this custody. Whilst the youth in Uganda constitute to over 70 percent of the total population, they are heavily hit by poverty caused by unemployment recorded at 32.2%, (Uganda National Household survey, 2002). It is clear that poverty remains one of the major causative agents of mental illness. Many youth who can’t find jobs find it easy to resort to abusing drugs as a means of avenging their frustrations. Youth unemployment is exacerbated by the difficult socio-economic realities the country is faced with currently that have led the youth into isolation and loneliness leading to depression hence mentally ill. (Fryer,1997) found out consistently that, when youth move from their educational stage to an employable one, those who manage to find jobs will most likely have better mental health than their unemployed counterparts.
The Ugandan government recognizes that mental health is a serious public health and development concern. Sadly in the country’s Mental Health Policy, less effort is proposed to have this problem addressed. With this, Uganda risks suffering from reduced economic growth unless we address the acute shortage of employment opportunities by increasing job creation to absorb the unemployed youth. The Government’s latest intervention to addressing youth unemployment through the Youth Livelihood Programme is a timely initiative but resources have to be channeled to areas that create more employment opportunities rather than mere hand outs.
Moreover, research is required to determine the relationship between mental health and unemployment as well as its impact on the youth. Government should delineate policies and programmes aimed at deinstitutionalizing youth with mental health conditions and moving services into other systems of care, such as family, school and Community based prevention strategies as this will help to overcome potential effects of inadequate mental health systems. Government should also review the mental health legislation to bring it up to date with current International Standards including increased awareness and trainings at grassroots to dishearten stigma.
Without a shadow of doubt, Youth unemployment negatively affects on the youth psychosocial well-being. Employment plays a vital role in promoting psychological wellbeing of the youth and the economic autonomy which it provides is innermost to defining their social and mental health status, their social recognition as men and women entailing their ability to establish and support their families. In absence of descent employment, mental illness will be the ultimate price to pay.